Desensitizing Writing-Adverse Students

I once had a first-year college student who broke into a sweat and shook at the sight of a blank piece of paper. I’ve never had another student with such an extreme reaction to a blank page, but I’ve had plenty whose clenched jaws and pained expressions testified to their inner state.

You can reduce the stress of writing for struggling students two simple ways:

  • Require frequent informal writing.
  • Reduce the size of the writing surface.

Informal writing lets students get used to the physical act of writing down their thoughts.  Familiarity breeds comfort. Also, since informal writing is graded A or F solely on the whether students did it, students don’t have reason to be afraid of fixing words in to paper.

You can have students do writing tasks on 3×5 cards or quarter-page scratch pads.   The small writing surface is adequate for many writing tasks, such as creating a working thesis or summarizing the main point of assigned reading.

You could have students use a microblogging site like Twitter or Edmodo as the digital equivalent of small pieces of paper. If your students lack motor skills necessary for handwriting, such digital platforms will probably work better for them than paper.

On the other hand, recent research indicates handwriting notes is better for learning than typing keyboard. That suggests you may want to have students handwrite informal responses at least when you are having them write to reinforce something you’ve just presented.


A version of this article originally appeared in the November, 2008,  issue of Writing Points, ©2008 Linda Aragoni